Foreign Language Programs in Crisis: Programs Closing, Faculty Losing Jobs

Lately people have been sending me all sorts of news articles about enrollments dropping in second and foreign language programs in high schools and universities. Here are a few examples:

“Community, Adult Education Programs Will be Missed”,, by Susan Steinmueller, Sept. 12, 2010

“Foreign language classes unresolved” – Isureveille, by Catherine Threlkeld, September 23, 2010

Cuts hurting language classes – The NewsStar by Carlos D. Fandal, September 26, 2010

Replacing Teachers with Technology – Fox News by Meredith Orban, September 28, 2010

Strapped Schools Ax Foreign Language Programs – Milwaukee – Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, by John Schmid, October 23, 2010

It breaks my heart when I hear about programs that have decreasing enrollment or worse, under threat of closure due to low enrollment. From my experience of working with schools and programs over the past decade as a marketing consultant, I can honestly say that there is no “magic bullet” in a situation like this.

If you’ve been given notice that your program is about to close, managers and teachers essentially face a crisis situation. Not only is their passion about to be killed, and they know their students’ futures will be shaped in a very different way, but their livelihood may be gone, too.

What are language teachers, administrators and foreign language advocates to do?

The only answer it seems is find a way to revitalize not only our programs, but also interest in them. Parents and community stake holders need to see the value of second and foreign language learning and the benefits that students derive by studying them. There is no quick fix to this one, I’m afraid. If you manage or teach in a foreign language program, the best thing to do right now is to keep it vibrant and alive. If your program is under the threat of closure, there may still be time to implement a revitalization, public relations or marketing strategy to rebuild your program’s health so it doesn’t get shut down, or replaced by a computer program.


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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